authors, Books, compassion, family, Life, life hacks

I read because.

I am sitting in a bookshop after work. In the bookshop cafe. Drinking tea. Writing. Reading.

I like to read. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction. But in either form I enjoy the description of ideas and people. Reading challenges my mental paradigms, and helps me gather new ones, new thoughts, new ideas, perhaps layered upon and blended with the old.

Reading can be both public and private. Indeed, it has been said that reading, especially reading fiction, encourages empathy  – that it is a kind of empathic technology.

I don’t know if that is particularly true but I do know of the power of narrative transportation. Indeed, research been shown that millennials who were immersed in the Harry Potter narratives have been influenced in terms of empathy for the outsider. This has, apparently also affected their votes.

Now that is pretty powerful. As Neil Gaiman said: “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. And discontent is a good thing: people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different, if they’re discontented”.

Reading thus becomes a conversation. Reading together can draw us together, as individuals and families and communities. Barack Obama, on meeting author Marilynne Robinson, commented: “When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you”.

I think reading, and reading aloud as a family, has encouraged us to see new and different viewpoints. To question and to think.

And, most of all, I think reading has been a pleasure in my life, both reading on my own and reading aloud to children. The stories have woven threads of pleasant memories.

 

 

 

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authors, Books, childhood, family

Your favourite author at age 11?

I remember when I was eleven. For a time, we lived with my grandparents in a three bedroom apartment. It was a year when I only attended one school (a milestone in my sixth grade year, in comparison to the four different school of the previous year). I moved to a new school (yet again) at the start of the year. And, in the wide school library, I discovered the author E. L. Konigsburg1048816

The first book I read by Konigsburg was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elisabeth. Yes, it inspired me to start a ‘witches club’ for, like Jennifer, I was new to the school and area and wanted to make my mark, knowing I would not fit in easily.  Then I discovered From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A book I have savoured. A book that continues to inspire my love for museums (and my occasional wish to run away!).  A book I have shared with many children, my own and others, that still inspires each generation.

What did I like about these books and this author?

I liked the honesty about the little things in life. The details. The conversations.

I liked how Konigsburg weaved stories of growth amid the realisation of adventure in the every day…and in the everydayness of the stories. Konigsburg had the  ability to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary,

I enjoyed (enjoy) her descriptions. Plain. Unadorned. But never simplistic.

I appreciated, and do so even more today, her use of phrasing. A word here, a word there, clusters of text that made me catch my breath and know, inside, that my own story had been articulated.

The characters’ lives, in each of those two books, suggested normalcy. And normalcy was a perfume for me as a child, in my own mixed-up, muddled-up life.

The stories of Elisabeth, and Jennifer, and Claudia and Jamie, whispered to me that, maybe, one day, I could write too. I already scribbled stories and novellas in the back of my old school exercise books. Konigsburg’s writing encouraged me to believe that I, too, could write stories like her. Stories of childhood and life.

E. L. Konigsburg, like Cynthia Voigt, wrote of children and for children, with raw, compassionate honesty. With terse but haunting descriptions. Of plots and characters that echo life with that hint of more.

Because “Having words and explanations for things is too modern..” ( ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’).

What was one of your favourite childhood novels?download

 

 

 

 

Books, Careers, Catholicism, compassion, family, Goals, Life, religion, speaking up, Women

I am finally living a life which I am actively participating in, rather than merely enduring.

No, I didn’t write that title. I got the quote from this blog post. And I am not entirely living that life of participation rather than enduring. But.. I am working on it.

Do you often note themes in your reading? Right now, nearly everything I read seems to involve change – Mercenary Mum (it’s okay, sons, I am not running away to be a mercenary…), Healthy is the New Skinny , Pope Francis’ The Name of God is Mercy.

And other books.

I realise that in my life, since I was a teen, a young mum, a business owner, a teacher  -and in my work and study and careers -the motif of endurance has often been pushed – snap! in place – right into the forefront. But when I endure I forget to participate. I forget to be active in my life. I am reactive rather than generative.

The trouble with endurance is that, sometimes, when I am so busy enduring, my life slips by. I stay stuck. I seem unable to become unstuck.

Pope Francis, in ‘The Name of God is Mercy’ reminds us that  “The name of God is mercy. There are no situations we cannot get out of, we are not condemned to sink into quicksand.”

This, I think, is important to remember.

There are some people (and some organisations) that exist by feeding us an unrelenting diet of belief in our own inadequacy. You will never be quite right, they say. Do this, be more, try more, study more ( or buy this…and follow that..).

But, you know, this is my only  life. Now. As Pope Francis noted, there is mercy – for me, as well as for others.

What would this look like in practical terms? The idea of mercy and participation in the place of only endurance?

I think I can see some practical jolts, that shock and startle participation and change.

  • It’s okay to have free time. Really. This is hard for me as I like to get up, read my morning book, walk or do other exercise, work on to do lists and have-tos….but thIMG_20170503_180218.jpgen I never get to want-tos. I never allow myself to sit and drink tea and just relax. Showing mercy to ourselves and others might just start here. With some free time. Without the nagging sense of “I should be doing…”
  • You are okay. Don’t let yourself and others fuel any inadequacy. You don’t need to lose 5 kg or be the best-all-the-time or always be the mediator. You don’t always get to be ignored either. You can speak up. Your voice matters.
  • And, if you’re not okay , then do something about it. Now. Seek help. Now.  Read. Look at retraining or adding to your knowledge. Change jobs – have a variety of jobs, a portfolio of jobs rather than one main work. Seek counselling. Just do it.
  • Then, finally, look at this list and throw it away. You don’t need me to tell you how to participate in life. Heck, I don’t even need this list (though writing it is an awesome reminder for me). Just do something today that makes you participate rather than endure. Then do more tomorrow. Laugh. Flick your hair. Grab a coffee. Look up that course or job online. Become a bartender. Write a blog post. Make biscuits with your children. Go for a walk  – on a different route.

Because nobody can tell you how to participate in life. You have to do it. (Though mercy, love and support from others can help, right?)

 

 

 

 

 

compassion, family, Life, Motherhood, Unschooling, Women

Family is our heritage

Eat. Chocolate. The heritage of the family. Or, as Blaise Paschal would say, the heart of the family.

I have often written of this heritage as  ‘strength’. That ability to cope, to keep going, to persevere. The heritage of strength. To never give up and, rightly or wrongly, to stick to being themselves, my family, with their agency and decision-making, both individualistic and collective.

Present, too, in my family, has been the strength to know when to cut your losses and make a change.

So, strength has been a theme, a thread, in the heritage of the family.

But I think there is more. To be honest, when I think of family love and family battles, of parties fading to fights, of solidarity and connectedness, I think of family itself. I realize that the heritage is more than a character trait or a story weaving its way through our lives, a tradition that keeps on being traditional. No, to reduce the family heritage to such simplicity is to do the heritage injustice. Because, ultimately, the heritage of our family is ‘family’ itself.

The ties that wind and bind, with love and sometimes dislike, inexplicably wrap us together as family. We pass on the intensity of the experience to our children. They, too, come to know family as a heritage that one can never quite escape.

And, surprisingly, we come to understand that the heritage of family is something you do not want to escape. It is you, your heritage. It is in all the good and all the bad. It is both the utopia and the dystopia.

It, family,  is there in the books and movies and music and quotes. The shared memories of childhood. The standing together against all odds, even in the busyness of life and the rare opportunity to gather as family.

We know life because of family.

This is our heritage.

Books, family, Life, Maybehedoesnthityou, Motherhood, speaking up, Women

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Time and Time Again

Ben Elton’s book ‘Time and Time Again’ details travel backwards in time, to correct an event that had world-wide catastrophic events. At book club, someone asked the rest of us: ‘If you could go back in time, what would you change about your life?’ A personal twist on the novel’s societal concern.

My immediate reaction was ‘Nothing’. I made the decisions I did, the choices I enacted, based upon who I was at the time, with the information then available. How could I change that? Indeed, to change those decisions would mean to change me, to change my family of seven sons.

Does this mean that all my choices and decisions have been good?

Far from it.

They are, however, mine. They make me whom I am today, both the good and bad. They form the substance of my relationships – with family, with God, with others – and the essence of my theological, philosophical, and personal understanding.

I have written before of domestic abuse. Surely, I am not ‘owning’ that?

Well, I am. I am not a victim or even a survivor. I am not an over-comer. I am a woman who has experienced abuse and, in decrying the abuse of myself and my sons and the abuse of other women, I am strong. I am not broken and no, my sons do not come from a broken home. We are well, thank you very much. Our home has peace. We grow in virtue and compassion. We have a radar or sixth sense for abuse and control in and of others. We can see through the bullshit (excuse the language, but we can).

I made a choice to marry young, to continue to be a rescuer, because that is who I was at age nineteen. I didn’t deserve the abuse. But, be sure, my seven sons from that abusive relationship are beings I would never wish away.

I have made many mistakes in my life. But having seven children and homeschooling are not any of the mistakes. To erase or to manipulate my history in one swift time machine trip would be to erase the good with the bad.

I am who I am. I fight for others. I own my choices and stand firm against abuse. I am not a victim. I am whole.

In a life well lived. In a life that I plan to continue to live well.

In fact, there may just be truth in the old adage ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

family, Life, Maybehedoesnthityou, religion, speaking up, Women

What happens when women speak up.

What happens when women speak up, speak up about abuse and control, start afresh, move on, create a happy life for themselves and their children?

I will tell you what happens. The abusive partner fears losing control and takes steps to punish the woman for moving on and for daring to speak up for other women, against abuse. He threatens. He tries to manipulate the children. he generates fear in the woman, he implies possible legal action, so much so that she almost stops speaking up. For herself, and for others.

Why can’t he move on? She ponders.

And – Maybe I should stop speaking about women and abuse because, you know, he is  causing trouble. Again.

Let me start with the first question. Why can’t he move on? To understand this one has to understand the mind of those who manipulate and control and abuse.

Step one involves the angry partner refuting the claim of abuse. ‘I wasn’t violent’ is a common refrain. But, as Lundy Bancroft writes in Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men:

“Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that’s physical abuse. He is creating fear and using your need for physical freedom and safety as a way to control you.”

Step two reminds the woman of why, exactly, he can’t let go. They, the abusers, see their partners (yes, even ex-partners) and their children (especially their children) a16266029_10212021609395491_5537952951364669240_ns possessions.The abuser become almost crazy at the thought of losing control over the woman – or, if it seems that they have lost control, they become almost crazy at the thought of losing control over their children. (Although, who am I fooling with the ‘almost’. Seriously.). Children become a weapon in the fight against the woman, a fight always couched in terms of ‘justice’ and ‘charity’.

The third step allows the woman to separate the rhetoric from the truth. She comes to see that he never lets go because (in some families) he uses religious language, and the misguided support of some in the church, as a weapon. It is a misuse of such religious language, of course.

An understanding of the initial question (Why can’t he let go?) does not always help with the next question the woman asks. Should she stop speaking up about abuse, since he may use the speaking up in retribution?

The choice is hers, and hers alone. But I am reminded of a history of silencing  people and groups who have suffered, the don’t-rock-the-boat mentality,  and how, in the end, that doesn’t serve to help women like me. Or the woman of this narrative.

To speak up is to raise awareness. To name abuse, for those who are able, for those who are safe (for safety of women and children is of prime importance)  is to give it less power.

And to continue to speak up, even when threatened or when someone tries to silence you, takes courage.

It, the speaking up, is not for everyone. There are concerns for mental and physical health and protection.  But for some (for me) it is both a necessity and a virtue
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Catholicism, Christmas, family, Life, religion, Women

Not the Brady Bunch

The end of the year.

The Feast of the Holy Family.

I should see their love. I know it is there. Image result for the holy family

But instead I see how often others hold up the Holy Family as an idealised model. As a tool with which to bludgeon others, to make others fit into a mould, a mould into which probably even the Holy Family did not fit.

Those of us who have grow up in different families can be made to feel inferior. I know I did. So I searched for normal. Only to find that normal did not, in fact, mean a Brady Bunch perfect family.

Those of us who have lived in horrible, gut-wrenching, nit-picking, cutting-wrists relationships also know different. We know that the false image of perfection in family life is a razor sharp picture that stabs us as we try, vainly, to snip at ourselves here and there on a path of reconstruction. A reconstruction that can never be achieved. Never.

Because the feast of the Holy Family is an icon. An icon that has been used by some to make family life what they want it to be. Like re-runs of I Love Lucy or Eight is Not Enough. Romanticised reminiscing of family life.

The Holy Family, itself, however, is not an icon. The Family were people.Are people. Jesus, Mary His Mother, Joseph her Spouse. Even in holiness they had their idiosyncrasies, I am sure. Even in holiness they lived rather than acted out scenes for others to copy.

Perhaps it is the living that counts on this feast day. So that, while I am tempted to cringe at the blows and hits of others who manipulate the feast, I can remember that life is lived. In a family and with others.

Living and praying. Trying and failing. Grace and grins. Anger and sorrow. As Thomas Merton reflected, life is lived  – who we are, truly, right deep inside, before God.

‘For me to be a saint means to be myself.’ Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain

‘The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them’ Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.